What Can Be

Title: What Can Be
Author: Mary Calmes
Cover artist: Catt Ford
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary/Holiday
Length: 124 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

A guest review by Sirius

Summary: This was a sweet Christmas story about reunions with the loved ones and healing, but unfortunately the narrator was too similar to the narrators in other stories by this writer.


Thirteen years ago, Eli went on a summer trip with his mother and never came back. Now, existing in a new life as Jacob Somerville, he’s again running from fear and memories, only to end up where he started. As Jacob struggles to reconnect with his father and brothers, he realizes that his lover, Craig Zhao, was the only thing filling his empty heart and standing between him and ghosts of the past. It will take the power of love—from his family, from Craig, and from himself—for Jacob to see that his life truly is filled with the promise of what can be.


As Christmas story, this novella definitely worked for me. The main character reunites with his family after everything that could have gone did thirteen years ago when he went away with his mother and left his father and two brothers behind. Now a partially accidental meeting brings them back together. Eli has to stop running from his past and accept that he deserves the great things which already happened to him in his present, he also makes an attempt to reunite with his family.

I thought Calmes did a good job showing Eli’s pain and desire to run away from the bad things that happened to him, and how he was affected by his past and by his past decisions. In this respect it was emotional and touching. His vulnerability and pain shines through in the narrative. I also thought that the reactions that his father and brothers show when they meet Eli after so many years rang very true as the reactions of people who see a long lost loved one for a first time.

Unfortunately that is where the positive parts of the story ended for me. My biggest problem is that overall Eli’s characterization is so very similar to the characterization of the narrator in so many other books by this writer. Everybody loves Eli, even on first sight; Eli is stunningly handsome and seemingly perfect, but he thinks he is bland. He thinks he is a flawed person, but suffering from the consequences of a horrible trauma at least in my book does not count as a character flaw.

I have said above that the reactions of Eli’s brothers and father rang very true to me, but an example of his perfectness and how people just fall for him the moment they meet him is reaction of Eli’s stepmother — which he did not even know he had. How does a woman who never met this young man before fall in love with him so soon after being introduced? Isn’t that a little bit too sudden and abrupt? It made very little sense to me. I would agree that feelings of pity for him would perhaps be normal, especially after hearing his story, but claiming to love Eli almost right away? I did not buy it.

Also, I have to mention that while the reunion felt true, the long time period during which Eli’s family could not find him was not explained plausibly enough for me. And it did not help that while Eli and his boyfriend Craig have a great chemistry (I wish I have seen such chemistry in many other stories), Craig has no flaws either. Oh he says that Eli made him a better person, but we never see Craig acting as a flawed human being, so I was not sold on him not being perfect before meeting Eli.

Lastly, please also note that even though it is listed at 124 pages, for me it felt a shorter and faster read than this page length.

Recommended with reservations.


  • I have to agree – this author’s too-perfect characters make me roll my eyes (I have a similar problem with the fantasy stories of Judith Tarr). And yet – I always buy her work the minute they’re available, so the whole charm of her writing clearly still works for me. My suspension of disbelief is very willing where Mary Calmes’ characters are concerned. I did enjoy this one.

    • Oh my god, Pea this is *exactly* my reaction to the letter – eye roll, another one and buying every single book of hers. Seriously though I felt guilty that while I like the books, I cannot grade this one any higher because of the same narrator, I felt guilty that I should know by now what narrator I am getting. But then I realized something – it is ok to like the book even if I can find faults in it, the books I like do not have to be top graded, so I feel better now hehe.

  • I read this and enjoyed it but always hate the rush to forgiveness in such stories. Coming to gether is only a beginning and forgiveness needs to be earned. My sticking point was how the father abandoned a teenager 13 years earlier. He should have gone to NY and seen for himself. His marriage might have been over but not his being a parent so that and the Stepmother wanting in on the discussion didn’t work for me – there is a lot to forgive with people consistently putting their own needs ahead of Eli.

    I also agree with the Mary Sue nature of Calme’s heroes and how that impacts on the stories. E.g. Jin Rayne – I love the culture and history of the shifters but Jin’s perfection and snottiness are a detriment to that series.

    • Merrian, yep, I was thinking why you do not want to go visit your son? To check on him? Like he was there for two years (I believe) before anything happened and nothing from dad? Just strange.

      I loved Change of heart, the only book that I would give five stars, I think partially because it was my first book by this writer and one Mary Sue narrator is not the same as fifteen (or how many books she wrote – I have all of them except A matter of time series) Mary Sue narrators. As you said, I love detailed culture of werepanters. I also actually thought that Jin was doing plenty of obnoxious stuff and while I still felt that writer wanted him to be perfect, it helped not to see him as that perfect. And I enjoyed Domin 🙂

  • Feliz

    One of the reasons I stopped reading books by this author is that all of her heroes are the same – just change the names and locations. They are all perfect and everyone loves them. Just once I wish she would give her readers realistically drawn, flawed characters that are believable.

    FYI the actual word count is 25.3K and the page count, when you take out the publisher’s and author’s information, is 118 PDF.

    • Hi Wave 🙂 Looks around tries to find Feliz in this thread 😉

      Well, yeah, what you said, except I keep reading as you know 🙂

      • Sorry Sirius

        Too many things on my mind. My apologies — obviously a name switch. 🙂

        A Matter of Time (a series a lot of the authors’ fans love but I didn’t for the reasons outlined in my reviews) is what made me realise how similar all of her MCs characterizations were. I need more creativity and imagination in my books, but obviously I’m in the minority

            • Haha, that was an awesome review and I can see that I already complained about perfect characters too. One would think I would at least not read any further in these series. Uhu. Sixth or was it fifth book was out few days ago and I got it almost right away. To be fair I have to say that while fantasy element in first book made me cringe indeed I do think she tried to improve and expand fantasy elements in the next books and even tried to include some diverse characters – one of the warders is black and he even gets his own story and one of the hearths (what a wierd word if you ask me) is Korean.

  • I agree with you. It was an absorbing read, but there were a lot of things that strained credibility. I thought the circumstances that kept them apart too unbelievable, especially his reasons for not contacting his father or brothers years ago when things started to go bad. And yes, the boyfriend was too perfect, and the hero was Calmes’s typical unrealistically gorgeous, charismatic, and successful guy who keeps trying to run away. It was a story that I enjoyed as I read it, but fell apart upon further thought.

    • Yes! and the family is supposedly quite rich and influential, right? I mean, I understand how Eli dissappeared, but I still think that they did not look hard enough and Eli not contacting them was not credible enough for me.

      I just feel that she does emotions so well sometimes and great chemistry, if only she varied her main characters sometimes. Thanks for commenting Gail.

    • Sorry, my computer is messing up (or else it’s the operator!!)

      When I first read this story, the stepmother reaction gave me pause, but then I thought about it and if I were in her place, it would be love the father, love the child. She was married to Eli’s father for 7 years and knows how much the missing child means to him. I thought maybe I would react somewhat similiarly.

      I also did not feel Craig was perfect. But he was perfect for Eli. When, during their first conversation, Craig wanted Eli to come home to fix dinner, I wondered if he was in a full body cast keeping him from going into the kitchen!!

      But this was a short Christmas story that made me feel good and despite some flaws, will have a permanent place on my kindle for rereading.

      Thanks for your review.

      • Hi Linda, I am glad you loved the story. I have no problem with “love the father, love the child”, in fact I think if many people were not able to genuinely love the kids that their beloved had from another marriage, the world would have been much sadder place. No, I was simply wondering about the speed of such love and that to me was kind of fantastical. It is just my opinion of course.

  • I love Mary Calmes but I had the same problem with the step mother I thought the story was going to go in a different direction, and she and her kids were going to do something to him especially when she wanted to be in on the private discussion with his father and brothers, but it was still a sweet story.

    • Thats a good point Janet, I was thinking more of her quick “I love you dear”, but you are right, her wanting to sit in on the conversation obviously painful to Eli and which he may not have wanted to share with the person he never met before was not very pleasant and have not endured me to her. I agree that it was a sweet story.


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